The Web Watchdog

Socially responsible shopping, which necessitates knowing
company personnel practices and environmental track records, can be
a full-time occupation. For every well-known corporate sinner
(Enron) and saint (Costco), there are hundreds of other businesses
controlling billons of dollars that largely escape public
scrutiny.

The founders of
Alonovo.com aim to fill in
the blanks. The Web site ranks corporations in five different
categories — such as ‘social responsibility’ and ‘healthy
environment’ — on a five-point scale. Bed Bath & Beyond, for
instance, receives a perfect five for ‘business ethics,’ but just
one and a half for ‘fair workplace.’ Consumers can pick the
categories most important to them, access the information for free,
and order products via the Alonovo site.

People exercise ‘an incredible amount of power’ when they spend
money, says site founder George Polisner, who spent 12 years
working for the Oracle Corporation. Spending money is transferring
power, he says.

At present, data for the ratings are culled primarily from KLD
Research & Analytics, a company that promotes socially
responsible investing. But Polisner expects eventually to
incorporate information from other sources as well.

In addition to educating consumers, Alonovo dedicates 20 percent
of its revenues (not just profits) to the charity of a customer’s
choosing. When the company started testing its site online in
August, there were 58 nonprofit groups, including the Children’s
Defense Fund and MoveOn.org, from which to choose.

Alonovo wants to avoid politics-unlike BuyBlue.org and other
organizations that seek to shift dollars from companies that behave
poorly. The name itself, in fact, is taken from a Latin word that
means ‘nurturing change.’ ‘We were struggling with names that would
not feed into any political polarization,’ Polisner notes, adding
that consumers do need to consider factors beyond cost. ‘If I go
into Wal-Mart and buy the cheapest toaster I can buy, is it really
the cheapest toaster in terms of the total cost to society?’ he
asks.

To find essential news and views online and in the alternative
press, read Web Watch at
www.utne.com.

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